Archbishop of Melbourne Denis Hart is supporting calls for an independent investigation to find out who leaked details of a reported police investigation into alleged abuse by Cardinal George Pell.
The Herald Sun newspaper published a report that said a Victoria Police taskforce was investigating allegations of abuse by Australia’s most high-profile Catholic.
In a statement, Cardinal Pell vehemently denied the allegations, calling them “undetailed”, and said they had not been raised with him.
Cardinal Pell called for a public inquiry into the source of the leak and Archbishop Hart released a statement defending the cardinal.
“It is very disturbing and concerning to read reports based on leaks to the media,” Archbishop Hart said.
“The allegations do not reflect the man I have known for more than 50 years.
“Cardinal Pell has unequivocally rejected the allegations as without foundation and utterly false and strongly denied any wrongdoing.”
Archbishop Hart said the leak, which comes a week before Cardinal Pell is to testify via video link before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, appeared to be “designed to do maximum damage” to Cardinal Pell and to undermine the work of the commission.
The commission accepted a doctor’s report that said Cardinal Pell would risk heart failure if he flew to Australia from Rome to give evidence.
“In this environment, it is the responsibility of the royal commission to provide a fair and balanced forum for all who appear before it,” Archbishop Hart said.
“The leaking of the allegations undermines the criminal justice system.”
Archbishop Hart said the fundamental principles of justice demanded that the allegations were investigated, that the allegations be put to the accused and that there was a presumption of innocence at a fair trial.
“Whenever any of these basic principles are not observed for one individual, regardless of their position in society, all suffer,” Archbishop Hart said.
“Cardinal Pell, like all Australian citizens, is entitled to have these principles apply to him.
“I support calls for an independent investigation into the source of the leaks.”
The Victorian Government said if, as reported, there was an investigation by Victoria Police, it would be inappropriate to comment.
Richard Wynne, the Victorian Minister for Planning, said it would be up to the state Attorney-General to give “consideration” to any call for an inquiry.
“Obviously it’s a matter for Victoria Police, who clearly are undertaking their own inquiries into this matter,” he said.